To round off the year here’s a picture of me with the finished artwork I’ve produced in 2016. Most of it was produced with the Dublin bid in mind, the rest is fan art (which can be found in my portfolio).
Looking at it all in one place it suddenly doesn’t seem like a lot (at least to me). Roughly one a month. I’m reminding myself that it was all produced in little windows of opportunity, in evenings, fitting around work and the kids. Also I’m really lazy, and the entire internet needed proof-reading. So given that, it’s not too bad a haul. More importantly, it’s the most productive I’ve been in years. I’m aware that I owe this surge to the opportunity I’ve been given to provide art for Dublin, and I’m really grateful to Emma, Esther and the rest for kicking me out of a moribund decade or more prior to this. I’m making up for lost time. If my art can keep pace with my exponentially multiplying gray hairs I might just come out ahead.
My earliest images this year (as last) were inked, scanned and then coloured digitally. When I first started colouring my inks the most I might do on paper would be to paint an abstract watercolour texture to be scanned and overlaid in photoshop. Increasingly this year the colours have become fully painted elements in their own right, making the final image a Frankensteinian assemblage of mixed media.
This was working well enough, in the sense that it could produce an acceptable result, but was amazingly time-consuming: each part of the image had to be created and composited separately, and I was effectively doing each picture several times: in pencil; in ink; in paint; in photoshop. One particular [beep] of an image took so long, and progressed so haltingly, that it began to feel like a creative process was turning into a frustratingly mechanical one. I was stifling whatever artistic mojo I actually possess through… well, sheer caution as much as anything. Fear of making a mistake. The final straw was when I accidentally saved over my master file with a much smaller version of the image. Never to be recovered.
There are plenty of wonderful artists who work only in Photoshop and produce phenomenal results, but I’m nowhere near that level. And so in August I decided to try a complete painting. You can see my very first attempt here, using acrylic on un-stretched paper. It’s a raw bit of art in some ways, but it (and in particular the crater at the bottom) convinced me I might be able to do better. I haven’t actually tried to paint since ‘A’ Level art, back when digital watches were a pretty neat idea and Doctor Who was still Sylvester McCoy. I was never very good at it back then, but I’ve sometimes found that art, oddly, is something you can get better at even while not doing it. Like being born with outsized paws and growing into them later.
Since August I’ve produced six fully-painted images (including the two Doctor Who ones), initially at A3 size but rapidly moving up to A2 when I realised that I needed more space to create detail with a paintbrush. I’ve also started using heavier paper, and stretching it on a board (okay, MDF coated with floor varnish, but you know, whatever works) which has really helped. I’m still using acrylics, which dry quickly and can take a lot of overpainting so are quite forgiving of trial and error. I’m learning as I go, but one advantage of working straight from sketch to paints is that I’m only doing the picture once. When it’s done, it’s done, and it only needs a bit of a clean and polish in photoshop. That means I can be more productive and get more more practice, and it feels creative again. Not every picture suits being painted of course, but so far this is working out very nicely. And if not doing art makes you a little bit better, maybe actually trying could pay off. Sounds crazy I know.
The Doctor Who images were well enough received on Twitter that I even made them available to buy. I’m not expecting to make money, but compared to where I was with my art a year or two ago this is a big step.
It’s been a tough year in many ways (and tougher for others than for me). It’s nice to have something that’s gone well over the last twelve months.
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